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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 49

Great Expectations

Chapter 49

Putting Miss Havisham's note in my pocket, that it might serve as

my credentials for so soon reappearing at Satis House, in case her

waywardness should lead her to express any surprise at seeing me, I

went down again by the coach next day. But I alighted at the

Halfway House, and breakfasted there, and walked the rest of the

distance; for, I sought to get into the town quietly by the

unfrequented ways, and to leave it in the same manner.

The best light of the day was gone when I passed along the quiet

echoing courts behind the High-street. The nooks of ruin where the

old monks had once had their refectories and gardens, and where the

strong walls were now pressed into the service of humble sheds and

stables, were almost as silent as the old monks in their graves.

The cathedral chimes had at once a sadder and a more remote sound

to me, as I hurried on avoiding observation, than they had ever had

before; so, the swell of the old organ was borne to my ears like

funeral music; and the rooks, as they hovered about the grey tower

and swung in the bare high trees of the priory-garden, seemed to

call to me that the place was changed, and that Estella was gone

out of it for ever.

An elderly woman whom I had seen before as one of the servants who

lived in the supplementary house across the back court-yard, opened

the gate. The lighted candle stood in the dark passage within, as

of old, and I took it up and ascended the staircase alone. Miss

Havisham was not in her own room, but was in the larger room across

the landing. Looking in at the door, after knocking in vain, I saw

her sitting on the hearth in a ragged chair, close before, and lost

in the contemplation of, the ashy fire.

Doing as I had often done, I went in, and stood, touching the old

chimney-piece, where she could see me when she raised her eyes.

There was an air or utter loneliness upon her, that would have

moved me to pity though she had wilfully done me a deeper injury

than I could charge her with. As I stood compassionating her, and

thinking how in the progress of time I too had come to be a part of

the wrecked fortunes of that house, her eyes rested on me. She

stared, and said in a low voice, "Is it real?"

"It is I, Pip. Mr. Jaggers gave me your note yesterday, and I have

lost no time."

"Thank you. Thank you."

As I brought another of the ragged chairs to the hearth and sat

down, I remarked a new expression on her face, as if she were

afraid of me.

"I want," she said, "to pursue that subject you mentioned to me

when you were last here, and to show you that I am not all stone.

But perhaps you can never believe, now, that there is anything

human in my heart?"

When I said some reassuring words, she stretched out her tremulous

right hand, as though she was going to touch me; but she recalled

it again before I understood the action, or knew how to receive it.

"You said, speaking for your friend, that you could tell me how to

do something useful and good. Something that you would like done,

is it not?"

"Something that I would like done very much."

"What is it?"

I began explaining to her that secret history of the partnership. I

had not got far into it, when I judged from her looks that she was

thinking in a discursive way of me, rather than of what I said. It

seemed to be so, for, when I stopped speaking, many moments passed

before she showed that she was conscious of the fact.

"Do you break off," she asked then, with her former air of being

afraid of me, "because you hate me too much to bear to speak to


"No, no," I answered, "how can you think so, Miss Havisham! I

stopped because I thought you were not following what I said."

"Perhaps I was not," she answered, putting a hand to her head.

"Begin again, and let me look at something else. Stay! Now tell


She set her hand upon her stick, in the resolute way that sometimes

was habitual to her, and looked at the fire with a strong

expression of forcing herself to attend. I went on with my

explanation, and told her how I had hoped to complete the

transaction out of my means, but how in this I was disappointed.

That part of the subject (I reminded her) involved matters which

could form no part of my explanation, for they were the weighty

secrets of another.

"So!" said she, assenting with her head, but not looking at me.

"And how much money is wanting to complete the purchase?"

I was rather afraid of stating it, for it sounded a large sum.

"Nine hundred pounds."

"If I give you the money for this purpose, will you keep my secret

as you have kept your own?"

"Quite as faithfully."

"And your mind will be more at rest?"

"Much more at rest."

"Are you very unhappy now?"

She asked this question, still without looking at me, but in an

unwonted tone of sympathy. I could not reply at the moment, for my

voice failed me. She put her left arm across the head of her stick,

and softly laid her forehead on it.

"I am far from happy, Miss Havisham; but I have other causes of

disquiet than any you know of. They are the secrets I have


After a little while, she raised her head and looked at the fire


"It is noble in you to tell me that you have other causes of

unhappiness, Is it true?"

"Too true."

"Can I only serve you, Pip, by serving your friend? Regarding that

as done, is there nothing I can do for you yourself?"

"Nothing. I thank you for the question. I thank you even more for

the tone of the question. But, there is nothing."

She presently rose from her seat, and looked about the blighted

room for the means of writing. There were non there, and she took

from her pocket a yellow set of ivory tablets, mounted in tarnished

gold, and wrote upon them with a pencil in a case of tarnished gold

that hung from her neck.

"You are still on friendly terms with Mr. Jaggers?"

"Quite. I dined with him yesterday."

"This is an authority to him to pay you that money, to lay out at

your irresponsible discretion for your friend. I keep no money

here; but if you would rather Mr. Jaggers knew nothing of the

matter, I will send it to you."

"Thank you, Miss Havisham; I have not the least objection to

receiving it from him."

She read me what she had written, and it was direct and clear, and

evidently intended to absolve me from any suspicion of profiting by

the receipt of the money. I took the tablets from her hand, and it

trembled again, and it trembled more as she took off the chain to

which the pencil was attached, and put it in mine. All this she

did, without looking at me.

"My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name,

"I forgive her," though ever so long after my broken heart is dust

- pray do it!"

"O Miss Havisham," said I, "I can do it now. There have been sore

mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I

want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with


She turned her face to me for the first time since she had averted

it, and, to my amazement, I may even add to my terror, dropped on

her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the

manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole,

they must often have been raised to heaven from her mother's side.

To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my

feet, gave me a shock through all my frame. I entreated her to

rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only

pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung

her head over it and wept. I had never seen her shed a tear before,

and, in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her

without speaking. She was not kneeling now, but was down upon the


"O!" she cried, despairingly. "What have I done! What have I done!"

"If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let

me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any

circumstances. - Is she married?"


It was a needless question, for a new desolation in the desolate

house had told me so.

"What have I done! What have I done!" She wrung her hands, and

crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over

again. "What have I done!"

I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done

a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into

the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded

pride, found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting

out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in

seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and

healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown

diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the

appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And could I

look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin

she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was

placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania,

like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of

unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in

this world?

"Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a

looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not

know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done!" And so

again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done!

"Miss Havisham," I said, when her cry had died away, "you may

dismiss me from your mind and conscience. But Estella is a

different case, and if you can ever undo any scrap of what you have

done amiss in keeping a part of her right nature away from her, it

will be better to do that, than to bemoan the past through a

hundred years."

"Yes, yes, I know it. But, Pip - my Dear!" There was an earnest

womanly compassion for me in her new affection. "My Dear! Believe

this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery

like my own. At first I meant no more."

"Well, well!" said I. "I hope so."

"But as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually

did worse, and with my praises, and with my jewels, and with my

teachings, and with this figure of myself always before her a

warning to back and point my lessons, I stole her heart away and

put ice in its place."

"Better," I could not help saying, "to have left her a natural

heart, even to be bruised or broken."

With that, Miss Havisham looked distractedly at me for a while, and

then burst out again, What had she done!

"If you knew all my story," she pleaded, "you would have some

compassion for me and a better understanding of me."

"Miss Havisham," I answered, as delicately as I could, "I believe I

may say that I do know your story, and have known it ever since I

first left this neighbourhood. It has inspired me with great

commiseration, and I hope I understand it and its influences. Does

what has passed between us give me any excuse for asking you a

question relative to Estella? Not as she is, but as she was when

she first came here?"

She was seated on the ground, with her arms on the ragged chair,

and her head leaning on them. She looked full at me when I said

this, and replied, "Go on."

"Whose child was Estella?"

She shook her head.

"You don't know?"

She shook her head again.

"But Mr. Jaggers brought her here, or sent her here?"

"Brought her here."

"Will you tell me how that came about?"

She answered in a low whisper and with caution: "I had been shut up

in these rooms a long time (I don't know how long; you know what

time the clocks keep here), when I told him that I wanted a little

girl to rear and love, and save from my fate. I had first seen him

when I sent for him to lay this place waste for me; having read of

him in the newspapers, before I and the world parted. He told me

that he would look about him for such an orphan child. One night he

brought her here asleep, and I called her Estella."

"Might I ask her age then?"

"Two or three. She herself knows nothing, but that she was left an

orphan and I adopted her."

So convinced I was of that woman's being her mother, that I wanted

no evidence to establish the fact in my own mind. But, to any mind,

I thought, the connection here was clear and straight.

What more could I hope to do by prolonging the interview? I had

succeeded on behalf of Herbert, Miss Havisham had told me all she

knew of Estella, I had said and done what I could to ease her mind.

No matter with what other words we parted; we parted.

Twilight was closing in when I went down stairs into the natural

air. I called to the woman who had opened the gate when I entered,

that I would not trouble her just yet, but would walk round the

place before leaving. For, I had a presentiment that I should never

be there again, and I felt that the dying light was suited to my

last view of it.

By the wilderness of casks that I had walked on long ago, and on

which the rain of years had fallen since, rotting them in many

places, and leaving miniature swamps and pools of water upon those

that stood on end, I made my way to the ruined garden. I went all

round it; round by the corner where Herbert and I had fought our

battle; round by the paths where Estella and I had walked. So cold,

so lonely, so dreary all!

Taking the brewery on my way back, I raised the rusty latch of a

little door at the garden end of it, and walked through. I was

going out at the opposite door - not easy to open now, for the damp

wood had started and swelled, and the hinges were yielding, and the

threshold was encumbered with a growth of fungus - when I turned my

head to look back. A childish association revived with wonderful

force in the moment of the slight action, and I fancied that I saw

Miss Havisham hanging to the beam. So strong was the impression,

that I stood under the beam shuddering from head to foot before I

knew it was a fancy - though to be sure I was there in an instant.

The mournfulness of the place and time, and the great terror of

this illusion, though it was but momentary, caused me to feel an

indescribable awe as I came out between the open wooden gates where

I had once wrung my hair after Estella had wrung my heart. Passing

on into the front court-yard, I hesitated whether to call the woman

to let me out at the locked gate of which she had the key, or first

to go up-stairs and assure myself that Miss Havisham was as safe

and well as I had left her. I took the latter course and went up.

I looked into the room where I had left her, and I saw her seated

in the ragged chair upon the hearth close to the fire, with her

back towards me. In the moment when I was withdrawing my head to go

quietly away, I saw a great flaming light spring up. In the same

moment, I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire

blazing all about her, and soaring at least as many feet above her

head as she was high.

I had a double-caped great-coat on, and over my arm another thick

coat. That I got them off, closed with her, threw her down, and got

them over her; that I dragged the great cloth from the table for

the same purpose, and with it dragged down the heap of rottenness

in the midst, and all the ugly things that sheltered there; that we

were on the ground struggling like desperate enemies, and that the

closer I covered her, the more wildly she shrieked and tried to

free herself; that this occurred I knew through the result, but not

through anything I felt, or thought, or knew I did. I knew nothing

until I knew that we were on the floor by the great table, and that

patches of tinder yet alight were floating in the smoky air, which,

a moment ago, had been her faded bridal dress.

Then, I looked round and saw the disturbed beetles and spiders

running away over the floor, and the servants coming in with

breathless cries at the door. I still held her forcibly down with

all my strength, like a prisoner who might escape; and I doubt if I

even knew who she was, or why we had struggled, or that she had

been in flames, or that the flames were out, until I saw the

patches of tinder that had been her garments, no longer alight but

falling in a black shower around us.

She was insensible, and I was afraid to have her moved, or even

touched. Assistance was sent for and I held her until it came, as

if I unreasonably fancied (I think I did) that if I let her go, the

fire would break out again and consume her. When I got up, on the

surgeon's coming to her with other aid, I was astonished to see

that both my hands were burnt; for, I had no knowledge of it

through the sense of feeling.

On examination it was pronounced that she had received serious

hurts, but that they of themselves were far from hopeless; the

danger lay mainly in the nervous shock. By the surgeon's

directions, her bed was carried into that room and laid upon the

great table: which happened to be well suited to the dressing of

her injuries. When I saw her again, an hour afterwards, she lay

indeed where I had seen her strike her stick, and had heard her say

that she would lie one day.

Though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she

still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they

had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she

lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of

something that had been and was changed, was still upon her.

I found, on questioning the servants, that Estella was in Paris,

and I got a promise from the surgeon that he would write to her by

the next post. Miss Havisham's family I took upon myself; intending

to communicate with Mr. Matthew Pocket only, and leave him to do as

he liked about informing the rest. This I did next day, through

Herbert, as soon as I returned to town.

There was a stage, that evening, when she spoke collectedly of what

had happened, though with a certain terrible vivacity. Towards

midnight she began to wander in her speech, and after that it

gradually set in that she said innumerable times in a low solemn

voice, "What have I done!" And then, "When she first came, I meant

to save her from misery like mine." And then, "Take the pencil and

write under my name, 'I forgive her!'" She never changed the order

of these three sentences, but she sometimes left out a word in one

or other of them; never putting in another word, but always leaving

a blank and going on to the next word.

As I could do no service there, and as I had, nearer home, that

pressing reason for anxiety and fear which even her wanderings

could not drive out of my mind, I decided in the course of the

night that I would return by the early morning coach: walking on a

mile or so, and being taken up clear of the town. At about six

o'clock of the morning, therefore, I leaned over her and touched

her lips with mine, just as they said, not stopping for being

touched, "Take the pencil and write under my name, 'I forgive


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